Local churches are taking precautionary measures to keep their parishioners safe.
After recent shootings in public places, including places of worship, some local Hillsdale churches are revisiting their emergency policies, while others are creating new policies to ensure people are safe in their church communities. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Free Methodist Church, and Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene all have emergency protocols and handbooks in place to help parishioners handle natural disasters, medical emergencies, and active shooter situations.
Peter Becker is the congregational president at St. Paul’s, and, for the past 10 years, he has also been the chair of the committee that prepares parishioners for emergencies.
“We always have faith that God will protect us,” Becker said. “But God also uses people as instruments.”
The committee currently consists of 10 to 12 parishioners who have been trained in the committee’s preparations as well as in first aid, CPR, and the operation of automated external defibrillators. Becker said members are typically trained one-on-one as they decide to join the committee.
The trained members of the committee are placed on a rotating schedule to ensure that a few members are present in the church’s narthex during every service.
“We make sure that if there are any emergencies we can help take care of the people attending the service,” Becker said.
He said the church hasn’t had any cases recently, but, in the past, the committee has dealt with slips and falls. The emergency committee has also performed drills during services to help parishioners prepare for weather emergencies.
In July, Corianne Herring created an emergency action plan for Hillsdale Free Methodist, where she attends. Free Methodist didn’t previously have an emergency plan laid out, and she wanted to change that. Herring said her military background trained her to have a plan for everything. She said safety and security is always on her mind.
“My church is like my family,” Herring said. “I wanted to make sure we had a plan to keep them safe.”
About two months ago, Herring’s emergency plan was distributed to members of the community, and Herring said it was received well. The emergency plan includes preparations for an active shooter, medical emergencies, and severe weather events. Herring hopes to make a security team sometime in the future.
“Sadly the world is not what is used to be,” Herring said. “It’s important that we do everything we can to prepare.”
According to the Free Methodist Emergency Action Plan resource guide, “We seek to provide a safe and secure worship environment for our church members and guests. Our goal is to create an alert and aware environment that may be able to prevent an emergency from occurring.”
Rev. Mike Prince of the Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene is working with local authorities, representatives, nonprofit organizations, and congregations of faith to plan a seminar designed to address the issue of safety in churches. The seminar is still in the planning phases, but is expected to take place in February or March of 2019, and its goal is to make sure that all places of worship are on the same page when it comes to safety in their communities.
Prince said that with recent gun violence in schools and churches, people need to come together and answer the tough questions to make sure that people are safe.
“The church has historically been a safe place to worship,” Prince said. “But we have to make sure we continue to make it a safe place.”
The Church of the Nazarene on a national level is currently working on a preparedness plan that allows all its local parishes to be on the same page. The working draft of the preparedness response plan says that no individual, home, church, or region is immune to natural or human-caused disasters. It also says that response should be a continuous process, and “everything in effective disaster response depends upon planning and preparation at the local church and ministry level.”
Prince said the Hillsdale Church of the Nazarene hopes to implement the instructions from the national level of the Church of the Nazarene and work together with other churches in Hillsdale to ensure the church community is kept safe in its place of worship.
“The feeling of the church is that we’d rather be prepared than have to deal with the aftermath,” Becker said.